A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting episode of the BBC’s Inside Science programme, looking at the difficulties of explaining science. The host Adam Rutherford started off by interviewing psychologist Lisa Scharrer, about her recent research finding that if people are presented with simplified scientific information, they can over-estimate their understanding of the scientific issue, and how this could be mitigated by emphasising the complexity and uncertainties. I think most of us here would approve of that.
He then spoke to Tamsin Edwards about complex science and public engagement. She also spoke of the importance of “signposting nuance and complexity” and said that “it’s really important to acknowledge that it can be rational to reject aspects of science from experts”. But the quote I liked best was the one I extracted in the above tweet, which seemed to go down well on twitter.
I was meaning to write about this programme at the time, but didn’t get round to it. But this afternoon, I saw that exact quote again. Where? It was quoted at the beginning of a legal brief posted on dropbox by lawyer Andrew Grossman, part of the paperwork of the long-running legal dispute between Michael Mann and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review (often referred to simply as Mann v Steyn).
The brief is written by Judith Curry and lawyers, and as usual she does not pull any punches. The introduction includes this:
Dr Mann has transgressed scientific norms and offended First Amendment principles by bringing a defamation claim against Appellants for their pointed criticism of his scientific methodology. Dr. Mann’s suit is unsupportable both because of his behavior toward his critics, particularly amicus curiae Dr. Curry, which demonstrates that the debate over climate science is often contentious and because Dr. Mann engages in the debate often to silence rather than to illuminate. The Court ought not be party to stifling debate.
In the main section, she cites Merton’s scientific norms, and how these were violated by Mann and Jones, as shown by the climategate emails. She also cites several of Mann’s “unseemly comments” about her (“boilerplate climate change denial drivel”, and so on).
Dr. Mann strayed outside the bounds of scientific and public policy debate by bringing this suit in an effort to use the legal system to shut down critics that he was unable to persuade or refute. As one commentator noted, “Mann wants a legal guarantee that he can dish it out, but he doesn’t have to take it.”… This Court should not endorse Dr. Mann’s use of this litigation as a cudgel against critics.
Entering the legal dispute in this way is what Sir Humphrey might call a courageous decision. Inevitably she will be subject to further attacks now, for having done so. I don’t fully understand the legal details but it seems to be a request that the court should reverse their decision not to dismiss Mann’s case.
Presumably Judith Curry will have a blog post about this soon. I will put a link when she does.